DC Shows Poor Judgment With Their “Break Into Comics With Harley Quinn” Contest

580-HarleyQuinn1_rceimv4twg_by Aaron Einhorn
I have, personally, more or less written DC Comics completely off. It is clear to me from the tone of their comics, the choices made by their editorial boards, and the direction of their films and television shows, that they no longer are attempting to appeal to my cross-section of the fan base.

Marvel is quickly pulling me back in, even as DC is actively pushing me away. And that’s just the way it is. Fine, I can live with that.

But that doesn’t mean I can turn a blind eye to stupid decisions made by DC Comics/Warner Brothers. We’re not even a full day away from the debacle involving the decisions around Batwoman, which are actively pushing away the creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman. And now, in the form of something that should actively be exciting to fans, DC is once again showing us that they Just. Don’t. Get. It.

I am referring to their “Break Into Comics With Harley Quin” contest, details of which can be found here.

On the surface, this seems awesome. A chance to submit four panels of art to DC, to be judged by their co-Publishers, to be used in a page of Harley Quinn #0, a book which will be handled by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner.

But I ask you to look at the content of the panels. Don’t feel like following the link? Ok, fine. I’ll recap it for you.

Read the following script page and give us your original artistic interpretation of what those four panels should look like on a single page:

4 panels
Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy.

Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her.

Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale’s mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever.

Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.

Consider the tone here. We’re looking at the potential suicide of one of the most prominent female characters at DC Comics today. And it’s being played for laughs. Now, sure, the Joker and Harley do, in fact, play life up for laughs. But the audience should be in on the real joke – that what they do isn’t funny. It’s sad, pathetic and scary. The Joker and Harley aren’t strong because of their psychosis, they’re weak, broken individuals.

I haven’t read a whole lot of the New 52 version, but the original relationship between the Joker and Harley was outright abusive, and should serve as a warning to young women. So, if we’re going to see Harley contemplating suicide, this shouldn’t be a happy, madcap adventure of Harley trying to off herself in the most over-the-top way possible. This should be a counterpoint – the moment where Harley realizes that she is the butt of the joke, not the comedienne.

To top it all off? The final panel specifies that she should be naked. Obviously, for a “family friendly” comic, you’re going to have to position objects in the room, soap bubbles, etc. to cover the bits of the body that would get you an “R” rating, but we should also know that the eventual winner is almost certainly going to reveal as much cleavage and butt cheek as possible. And this from a company that is currently making headlines because it won’t allow its highest-profile LGBT character to marry her fiancé. Whether Dan DiDio and Jim Lee are actually misogynists themselves is beside the point – this creates the perception that they are, and ultimately that matters a whole lot more.

On his Facebook page Jimmy Palmiotti explains that it is out of context, and others have said that it specifies nudity to reinforce the idea that she should not be in costume – but then, it could have said that, couldn’t it?

To top it off? The terrible timing here gets worse when you consider that September (when this contest was posted) is Suicide Prevention Month.

I’m not the biggest fan of Harley. I’ve long considered an object lesson – an example of what not to do, instead of a role model, which is what she is often seen as by many young women I know. But even so, this seems cheap and exploitative.

Of course, my opinion means little. I was never going to buy Harley Quinn #0, so it isn’t like DC has suddenly lost my money. But it still makes me very sad to see that the company who once brought me characters that inspired me has fallen so low.


  1. Lorna Dune says:

    What it comes down to is this: Didio is incompetent at his job and needs to be removed before he completely destroys the company–which many, many people feel he has already done. How Warner/DC don’t realize how immensely unpopular this guy is, with both fans and the creators themselves, is beyond me.

  2. No argument, Lorna. A few years ago at SDCC, I went to both the DC Nation panel and the Cup of Joe panel. The difference between Quesada and DiDio was night and day.

    This was right after Infinite Crisis, and not long after Brand New Day. Both came up during the panels in the Q&A sessions.

    Quesada, when asked about Brand New Day, said “Here’s why we did it. I think we’ve got some exciting things happening, I understand you may not like some of the changes, but I hope you’ll give it a chance.”

    DiDio, when asked about Infinite Crisis, mocked the fan for his lack of understanding, and encouraged the crowd to do the same.

    I’m not saying Quesada is a saint, or that all of his decisions have been great. But he at least makes it look like he’s listening, and in this era, perception is reality.

  3. Sounds like you’re the one taking this too seriously. They’re funny books, man. Go get this worked up over stuff that really matters.

    • Michael, this is a site about comics. If I’m allowed to rant about things in comics anywhere, it’s here. You don’t know me, and don’t know what else I care passionately about, but this site would hardly be the right place to talk about Syria, or watching the quagmire that is US politics, or to discuss religion, etc.

      Also, they’re not “just funnybooks,” at least, not to the people who care. Superhero stories can be morality plays, and in an era where public figures cry out “I’m not a role model,” is it wrong to look to characters like Superman and Captain America to be those role models? Comic stories matter, and on some level, you must agree – otherwise why would you ever have looked at my site?

  4. Quesada is no peach, but yeah, DiDio is a hot mess. And isn’t it interesting how often a comics company will put out promotional material and then go “oh hey this is out of context!” when someone has an issue with it?

    • Yep.

      No argument that Quesada is no saint. He’s made plenty of bad calls, and said plenty of stupid things. But he at least makes an effort – DiDio doesn’t even seem to be doing that.

      And like I said before, perception is reality. It’s entirely possible that this scene is entirely out of context, and in the issue itself might make sense without being offensive. That doesn’t change the fact that, on it’s own, this is a really troubling image, so why would you use *this* page for the contest?

      • I can’t remember which comic blogger said it (DC Women Kicking Ass? about the Vixen #1 promo art that DC released), but in summary: if you’re going to put out promotional material trying to get people to like your comic, and they dislike it, it’s disingenuous to then say “oh but it’s out of context / there’s a reason for it / if you read the whole thing you’d understand it!!!” Dude, YOU PUT IT OUT THERE as an example for people to judge the whole. Don’t whine when people make a different judgment than you wanted.